- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2018

President Trump gave himself an A-plus Sunday for how he runs the country, unbowed by Democrats’ wins in the midterms that gave them control of the House.

Mr. Trump awarded himself the high marks — and contemplated whether he could go higher — as he plotted a Cabinet shakeup, a government shutdown showdown with Democrats over border wall funding and the endgame for special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“I hate to do it, but I will do it: I give myself an A-plus. Is that enough? Can I go higher than that?” Mr. Trump said in an interview aired on “Fox News Sunday.”

The interview capped a busy weekend for Mr. Trump. He spent Saturday in California reviewing the response to devastating wildfires and comforting families of victims of a Nov. 7 nightclub shooting in Thousand Oaks.

Other presidents gave themselves high marks, but none in recent memory went as high as A-plus.

President Barack Obama gave himself a B-plus with an A-minus in sight after his first year in office.

“Well, B-plus because of the things that are undone. Health care is not yet signed. If I get health care passed, we tip into A-minus,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey for her 2009 TV special “Christmas at the White House.”

He signed the Obamacare law in the next year, in his estimation securing at least an A-minus by the end of his second year.

President George W. Bush was not predisposed to grading himself. But at a 2004 press conference, he couldn’t think of a single mistake he had made in his first term.

“I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. [But] you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one,” said Mr. Bush.

Mr. Trump’s gave himself a slightly higher grade than last year.

In an interview with “Fox & Friends” at the one-year mark, Mr. Trump gave the administration an A-plus for effort and an A for achievement but at most a C-plus for messaging.

“But results are more important [than effort],” he said.

In the “Fox News Sunday” interview, Mr. Trump said he had plenty of accomplishments that support the top grade.

“I think I am doing a great job,” he said. “We have the best economy we’ve ever had. We’re doing really well. We would have been at war with North Korea if, let’s say, that [previous] administration continued forward.”

The president also has a lot on his plate:

⦁ He must formulate a response to the assassination of Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA reportedly has linked to key ally Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Mr. Trump promised a full report by Tuesday.

⦁ Mr. Trump is contemplating replacing as many as five top administration officials. And he wouldn’t vouch for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, keeping speculation alive that they are on the way out.

⦁ He said he gave acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker free rein over special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, including limiting or shutting down the investigation. The remark gave new ammunition to Capitol Hill critics who say Mr. Whitaker was appointed to torpedo the Mueller probe.

⦁ Mr. Trump said he has completed questions submitted by Mr. Mueller’s investigators, singling that the 18-month probe could be nearing its conclusion.

“It wasn’t a big deal. The answers — the questions were asked and answered. It wasn’t a big deal,” said Mr. Trump. “You know why? I did nothing wrong.”

The president has not yet submitted his answers, and it is unclear whether Mr. Mueller’s team will have follow-up questions or will press for an in-person interview.

Mr. Trump’s selection of Mr. Whitaker, the former chief of staff to ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and outspoken critic of the Mueller probe, ignited renewed accusations that the president was trying to squelch the investigation.

Democrats and some Republicans have called on Mr. Trump to find another attorney general. And Senate Democrats, with support from Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, are pushing for legislation to protect the Mueller probe.

“It’s a flawed appointment. The biggest flaw, from my point of view, is that he was chosen for the purpose of interfering with the Mueller investigation,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is poised to become chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told ABC’s “This Week.”

Mr. Trump didn’t say anything to assuage that view.

“It’s going to be up to him,” the president said of Mr. Whitaker’s decision on the Mueller probe. “I wouldn’t get involved.”

On the future of Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Kelly in the administration, Mr. Trump said, “We’ll see what happens.”

Mr. Trump said he was unaware of Mr. Whitaker’s previous public criticism of the probe, which asserted there was no Trump campaign collusion with Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race.

But the president commended Mr. Whitaker for taking that view.

“He’s right. What do you do when a person is right? There is no collusion,” Mr. Trump said, wondering aloud whether he was supposed to pick an attorney general who believes there was collusion.

Reports have swirled around Washington since the election that Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Kelly were working on borrowed time, with Mr. Kelly fighting to save the job of Ms. Nielsen, his handpicked successor at the Department of Homeland Security.

“I like her a lot. I respect her a lot. She is very smart. I want her to get much tougher and we’ll see what happens there,” said Mr. Trump.

His chief gripe with Ms. Nielsen is the continued influx of immigrants crossing the southern border into the U.S. illegally. “I want to be extremely tough,” he said.

Mr. Trump also walked back his assurances from this summer that Mr. Kelly would be with him through the 2020 election.

He acknowledged that he isn’t completely pleased with his chief of staff’s performance.

“Certain things I love that he does, and there are certain things I don’t love,” said Mr. Trump. “There a couple of things that just aren’t his strength.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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